Review: Bridger

Goodreads synopsis:  Ashlyn McVean doesn't believe in fairy tales. That is, until Ashlyn is thrown into the crosshairs of grudges her grandmother created long ago. After finding out she is one of two people able to cross between faerie realms, Ashlyn is faced with trying to understand her abilities, along with navigating a new relationship with her boyfriend, Liam. As if being on a centuries old hit list and dealing with crazed pixies isn't enough, her new abilities mean trouble for Liam. Knowing her new life puts everyone she loves in danger,  Ashlyn must decide what's most important in her life between friends, family, love, and ultimately, realms.

I honestly did not know what to expect from this debut novel. I’m not well versed in faerie lore (despite being half Irish), and have not read many books where faeries factor so prominently in the tale.  

The novel did not draw me in immediately, I found myself questioning characters’ motives and the timing of events.  The opening scene is the sudden, tragic, and very unexpected death of Ashlyn’s father. Of course, this event proves of utter importance later in the novel, but at the onset it felt rushed. Without a doubt, the first chapter of any novel is the most difficult to write—how much back story is too much, how does one control pacing, what do readers need to know immediately, these are all questions any author struggles with.

Once I got out of the first chapter, I found myself drawn into the actual story and began seeing events through Ashlyn’s eyes.  Most readers will be able to recall their awkward teenage years and will understand what it must be like to balance one’s own changing world with trying to figure out where one fits in the larger picture. Ashlyn finds herself bound for Ireland—the chapters that took place in Ireland were some of my favorites—where she quickly finds there is more to her family than meets the eye.

Readers learn with Ashlyn that there are multiple realms and a war has been waging for hundreds of years of which most humans are blissfully unaware.  Most importantly (to me at least), Ashlyn meets Liam. Yeah, yeah, faeries are cool, but c’mon—Liam is tall, has black hair, blue eyes, an Irish brogue, and is completely dedicated to keeping Ash safe---what more could a girl ask for?  And here is where Megan Curd won me over—despite having a handsome and very capable boy whose sole mission in life is protecting her, Ashlyn is very much self-sufficient; indeed, she rescues him as much as he rescues her. No wimpy female protagonist waiting to be swept up by prince charming here.  Bridger, as a whole, is full of strong female characters, which is something I love to see in literature.

Upon meeting Liam and his family, Ashlyn’s world is turned (even more) upside down and she must come to terms with the fact that her days as an ordinary high school student are long gone. To her credit, she does try to maintain some sense of normalcy, but it seems this is not in the cards for her. 

The action of the novel moves along at a good pace and there is a hefty dose of romance and tension thrown in to keep the novel well-rounded. Readers will find themselves choosing sides and cheering on characters as they are pulled along on this roller-coaster ride with Ashlyn.

As this is the first in a series, the novel ends with a cliffhanger; however, it does also stand alone on its own merits. I am eager to see how the series progresses, I anticipate seeing more of the other realms in the forthcoming follow-up.  In all, this is a solid entry to the YA fantasy genre and I’m looking forward to following Megan Curd as her career progresses. 

Neil Gaiman with Lev Grossman @ the 92nd St. Y

On Tuesday, 21 June, 2011, Neil Gaiman came to New York City to sit down at the 92nd St. Y and share with the audience his insights on writing, cats, and the possibility of a robot uprising.  The host of the evening’s festivities was the supremely talented Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians. (Sidebar: if you’ve not read The Magicians yet, do it soon—you won’t regret it!!)

My adventure into the city began Tuesday at 4:17 when I hopped on a NJ Transit train headed to Hoboken to pick up the PATH into the city. After an amazing dinner at Pio Pio, we headed over to the Y.  It was super-exciting to see the Big Gay Ice Cream truck parked in front of the Y; but, being full of delicious Peruvian food, we opted to skip ice cream, despite it looking exceptionally tasty.

The auditorium was packed. Every seat was full (after a few people wandered in late). Lev Grossman introduced Neil Gaiman and the theater erupted in applause. The presentation began with Gaiman reading one of my favorite passages from American Gods.  The short version (and my favorite part of the passage) is below.

I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen — I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone's ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we'll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of the Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind's destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it's aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there's a cat in a box somewhere who's alive and dead at the same time (although if they don't ever open the box to feed it it'll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn't even know that I'm alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says that sex is overrated just hasn't done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what's going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman's right to choose, a baby's right to live, that while all human life is sacred there's nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you're alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.

And it’s passages such as this that illustrate why I love Gaiman’s prose so much. Genius, pure genius.  The discussion continued with banter about the process of writing American Gods, and writing in general. This is when Gaiman declared the “rules” of writing to be mostly arbitrary; preferring instead to write as he was inspired to do so. And for the duration of his career, that has certainly served him well, as his legions of fans (myself included) look to him as a sort of rock star of the literary world. 

The audience were invited to ask questions, and far from mundane, the audience questions ran from thought provoking to bizarre. The first question wasn’t really a question; it was more of a statement. (And I am paraphrasing here).

Q: Dear Neil Gaiman, we named our cat Shadow and now he is constantly chasing    invisible gods around the house.

            **Cue audience laughter**

A: If you thought your cat would not be seeing gods were he named Tibbles, you clearly have no understanding of cats.

Good point; after all, most cats spend time running around chasing invisible things. Well played, sir.

Other questions ranged from “what were some of your favorite punk bands,” “if Amanda Palmer were a god, what god would she be,” and finally, “are the robots going to take over?”  All questions were answered with grace and good humor. The evening wound to an end too quickly, though I’m sure anyone in the audience would have happily stayed well into the morning to listen to the author share stories and respond to questions. 

The answer to the final question, by the way, “as a best-selling and award-winning author, I can assure you, the robots are not going to take over the world—you are safe.”  Thank you, Neil Gaiman, I can sleep well now.


The awesome Tahereh Mafi is giving away copies of ARCs of her new novel, Shatter Me. Hop on over to her blog to find out how to enter to win one of your own :D

Neil Gaiman with Lev Grossman - 92nd Street Y - New York, NY

This is where I will be this Tuesday evening, and I'm all squee about it. Neil Gaiman is easily my favorite author, with far too many amazing titles to name. And Lev Grossman, well, he's pure genius. If you've not yet read his book, The Magicians, you must do so -- post haste. I'm sure I'll have much to share about this fantastic evening, for now I'm just super excited!

Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset

When I turned the last page of Kady Cross’s The Girl in the Steel Corset, I went quickly from  “oh, no, it can’t be over” to “the next book is going to be ah-may-zing!”  And really, I am very excited about where the characters will be going in the next installment of the Steampunk Chronicles

For those unfamiliar with the world of steampunk, welcome. In the simplest terms, steampunk incorporates elements of science-fiction to Victorian settings. Technology such as robots, telecommunications devices, horseless carriages, etc. all exist and are part of the day to day workings of the society thanks to the magic of steam power and ingenuity. Think H.G. Wells and Jules Verne meet Star Trek. Also integral to the steampunk genre—fashion. You can’t just kick a lot of bad-guy butt, you have to look good doing it. Think corsets, boots, goggles, and weapons.

Now that you’ve got a little bit of a background into the steampunk genre I love so much, let me introduce you to Kady Cross’s brilliantly developed heroine, Finley Jayne. Finely is a little bit Jekyll and Hyde a little bit Jane Austen, and I love this about her. She is conflicted about the duality of her nature (what sixteen year old isn’t—what 30 year old isn’t, for that matter) and walks a line between Victorian sensibilities and a desire to seek out dangerous encounters. Unable to keep a job because she has a predisposition to beating up people who annoy her, Finley finds herself aligned with Griffin, the Duke of Greythorne, and his motley crew of friends. There is Sam, the strong protector of the group; Emily, the sassy inventor; and Jasper, the cowboy. This group has been keeping London safe; and, when we meet them, are hot on the heels of the mysterious Machinist, who has a nefarious plot to bring down the regency. Finley is not initially well-received by the group, and she herself does not know where her loyalties lie; however, as the action progresses and mystery builds, it becomes clear this team has become a close-knit family.

And oh, the action. This book is perfectly paced. There are lulls after big fight scenes that allow the characters (and the readers) to catch their breath. There is ample mystery and intrigue surrounding the characters and their back stories. There is also a nice dash of romantic tension, but not so much as to become a distraction.

What I loved most about this book is the grey areas in which the characters live. With one notable exception, the characters are neither all good nor all bad, instead they dwell in that moral grey-area where most humans spend their time. Loyalties are tested, friendships are strained, and suspicion abounds. Through it all, readers will find themselves cheering for characters they may have first regarded with dubious aloofness and then turning on characters they may have initially loved.

Aside from a colorful cast of characters, Kady Cross has presented her readers with a rich setting. From the vibrant and lively carnivals of Pick-a-Dilly to the seedy wharfs of the Thames, readers will feel as though they are thrust into Victorian England and all its highs and lows.  What a great way to escape from reality.  

Obviously, I loved this book and there is definitely something in it for everyone. I am already anxiously waiting for the follow-up, and can’t wait to see what adventures are in store for Finley, Griff, and the gang.

Review: The Strange Case of Finley Jayne


“I would mock anyone who whines about their situation yet can’t summon the bollocks to fight for who and what they want.” (location 510)

Finley Jayne is not the average teenage girl. She’s certainly not typical for girls growing up in Victorian England. But then, Kady Cross’s steam-punk version of England is far from what you’ve read about in history books.  In the interest of full disclosure, I love the steam-punk genre and am happy to see books like Kady Cross’s Steampunk Chronicles and Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series bringing steampunk to YA, it’s a brilliant mix.
What I especially loved about The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, was the titular character. Finley is a tenacious heroine who doesn’t need saving by any handsome prince. In fact, she could probably save a few princes herself.  In this story, the prequel to The Girl in the Steel Corset, Finley earns a position as a companion to young Phoebe Morton who has recently been betrothed to the sinister Lord Vincent.  Because Finley has a unique “skill-set”, by which I mean to say, she can kick some serious butt, Lady Morton thinks Finley will be able to protect her daughter from any ill-intentions Lord Vincent may have.

This story sucked me in from the beginning. I loved the details from Silas’s book store full of copies of Jayne Austen, Charles Dickens, and (of course) Mary Shelly to the juxtaposition of automatons and steam-powered machinery  on the streets of Victorian England. It was also refreshing to read a story that did not center on a love triangle. Instead, readers are presented with a strong female lead who is part Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde part Jane Eyre.   The narration is atmospheric and fast-paced, and readers will be completely immersed in the surreal version of England presented through Ms. Cross’s prose.  

I was equally impressed by The Girl in the Steel Corset (more on that later) and am eager to see what is in store for the future of The Steampunk Chronicles.

Finding Balance

It has been tough this week trying to balance my blog with work obligations, and even harder to find time to read. I expect to be back on schedule this week, after digging myself out from under the stacks of papers waiting to be read. I did manage to squeeze in some non-work related reading; though, and am working on a few reviews now.

Coming up later today will be my review of Kady Cross's novella,  The Strange Case of Finley Jayne, followed later this week by my review of her full-length novel, The Girl in the Steel Corset. Spoiler Alert: I loved them both!

I've also got a selection of ARCs courtesy of NetGalley,  including Legacy, Steampunk, and Between Two Ends.

Coming later this week will be my review of Melissa Marr's Graveminder--her new non-YA series.

The weather promises to cooperate with lots of rainy days, perfect for staying inside reading and blogging.

Have a great week, everyone!

Random Acts of Kindness

Book Soulmates

How cool is this?  The awesome Isalys & Vanessa at Book Soulmates have started a Random Acts of Kindness challenge. No, not a contest, a challenge. Show some love to your fellow bloggers by signing up and participating. I've already got my RAK all planned out. Doing nice things for people feels good, and don't we all need a little cheering up every once in a while? So, get out there and make someone's day!

Tiger Beatdown › Oh, the Depravity! Pearl Clutching at the WSJ Over Young Adult Fiction

Another heartfelt and eloquent response to the WSJ article.

Making the Darkness Visible « Jackie Morse Kessler | Blog

Jackie Morse Kessler responds to the WSJ article that calls out her books as "dangerous" and "lurid."

Does Ignoring the Darkness Make it Disappear?

After reading Meghan Cox Gurdon’s Wall Street Journal article, Darkness Too Visible, I was left angry and disheartened. A little research showed me that the WSJ has a habit of publishing articles that slam the YA adult genre. This made me wonder if the people writing these articles had actually read any of the books they were condemning. The logical answer is probably not. The people who shout loudly about the things we need to keep our teens away from rarely read/watch/listen to those things. And then I thought, “whatever happened to actually talking to teens”; and that, I realized, is the real problem.

I am a high school English teacher. I have been for almost 13 years now. I read a lot of YA literature, often when a student recommends a new title to me. I discuss these selections with my students, ask them what they loved about the books, how certain passages made them feel, what made them chose the piece, what they thought about the author’s style, etc. It is not unusual for a student to respond that he/she has gone through something described in the books or knows someone who has. I talk to the kids. I listen to what they have to say.

Books offer a fantastic way to open a dialogue. I begin each year by asking the parents of my students to read the books in our curriculum along with their children and to talk to their kids about what they are reading. A parent reading J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is going to have a much different perspective than the 16 year old high school junior who is reading it. What great dinner-time conversation fodder.

Now I must appeal to Amy Freeman, the mother who was distraught by all the “lurid and dramatic covers” in her local Barnes & Noble. Your thirteen year old daughter knows people who are having sex. She knows people who are depressed. She knows people who are being or have been abused. She knows people who are harming themselves or have thought about it. She knows there are terrible things in the world. And she knows there are wonderful things in the world. Teenagers are people, they are having very real life experiences both positive and negative, as much as the adults in society often want to pretend otherwise. Teenagers think about sex, and drinking, and drugs. Reading a book is not going to make them any more likely to act out on those urges.
Here’s another news flash. Sex, drugs, and violence are not new themes in literature. Don’t believe me? Go read The Bible, or The Epic of Gilgamesh, or The Odyssey, or anything written by Shakespeare.  I’ll wait.

“But these books were not aimed at teenagers,” you respond. No? Well, I remember reading them in high school. Did you? Did you survive? Did you turn to witchcraft after reading MacBeth as many parents fear will happened when their children read Harry Potter?  Did you decide to drag your child to the top of a hill to sacrifice him after reading the Bible? Did you, inspired by Romeo and Juliet, drink poison because your parents didn’t like your boyfriend? No, you survived. Just as teens who are reading books by Holly Black, Jackie Morse Kessler, Chris Lynch, Ellen Hopkins, and the scores of talented YA authors out there, will survive.

To be able to point a student struggling with feeling like the only gay kid in the school to Perry Moore’s Hero or John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson, is a powerful thing. To be able to hand a copy of Heidi Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell From the Sky to a student feeling isolated is also a powerful thing.  YA literature covers the gamut from realistic fiction to dystopia to fantasy and everything in between. Fiction does for teens what it does for all readers, offers a reprieve from everyday life and lets us see through the eyes of another for just a little while.

I challenge you, Amy Freeman and Meghan Cox Gurdon, to actually read one of the books you are decrying and then discuss the contents with the young people in your lives. You may be surprised by where the discussion takes you. Or are you too afraid?

                                                  As an aside, I must point out two additional things. One is the  
                                                 silly list of titles on the sidebar of the article, divided into books 
                                                 for boys and books for girls, how quaint. Many of those books 
                                                 include violence and foul language, what sets them aside from the
                                                 books described in the actual article? The final observation is the 
                                                 great irony of suggesting Fahrenheit 451, a book about the 
                                                 dangers of censorship, in an article that pretty much calls for the
                                                 censorship of an entire genre.

** First image link is from the WSJ article linked to above
**Thanks to Miss Molly O'Neill for the image, "Books, this is how they work", borrowed from

Why I Loved Wither

I expected to enjoy Wither. Why wouldn’t I? The blurb on the book jacket reads, 

“What if you knew exactly when you would die?

Thanks to modern science, every human being has become a ticking genetic time bomb—males only live to age twenty-five, and females only live to age twenty. In this bleak landscape, young girls are kidnapped and forced into polygamous marriages to keep the population from dying out.

When sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery is taken by the Gatherers to become a bride, she enters a world of wealth and privilege. Despite her husband Linden's genuine love for her, and a tenuous trust among her sister wives, Rhine has one purpose: to escape—to find her twin brother and go home.

But Rhine has more to contend with than losing her freedom. Linden's eccentric father is bent on finding an antidote to the genetic virus that is getting closer to taking his son, even if it means collecting corpses in order to test his experiments. With the help of Gabriel, a servant Rhine is growing dangerously attracted to, Rhine attempts to break free, in the limited time she has left.

Intriguing, right?  That’s exactly what I thought. Like I said, I expected to enjoy Wither.  What I did not expect, was to get completely lost in the dystopian world created by Lauren DeStefano.  

This fictional future USA is a dreary place, but it is still eerily familiar. The first chapter grips readers immediately by thrusting them into the middle of the action. I love the use of first-person, present tense narration that adds a sense of immediacy and urgency to the novel. It is as if we are discovering this crazy world along with Rhine, seeing everything through her eyes. And I do mean EVERYTHING. This novel is full of descriptions, from intricately designed gardens to gorgeous dresses—there is no lacking of detail in the prose. Normally, I find this distracting (I had to skip through the pages of dress descriptions in the Luxe series) but for some reason it works in this novel. I could smell the bath salts, taste the lobster bisque and chocolate éclairs, feel the harsh hurricane winds, and hear Cecily’s music and Jenna’s coquettish conversations.

The best thing about this debut novel is the lush language.  I’m one of those people who has to write in the books she’s reading (even when I’m reading on my Kindle) and there were so many passages that I underlined just because of the beautiful way the words were put together. Some of my favorites:

“It’s the silence I imagine in the rest of the world, the silence of an endless ocean and uninhabitable islands, a silence that can be seen from space.”
 “Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with it’s last beauty, as if nature has been saving up all year for the grand finale."

It is, of course, the characters who drive the story. Rhine, the spunky main character has wisdom well beyond her sixteen years, due to the way she has grown up and the situation in which she now finds herself. Jenna, her sister wife is both feral and pitiable; a damaged girl who has experienced way too much, too soon and who, as a result, is a fierce protector of her sister wives. Cecily, who should be repugnant, evokes empathy and readers will at once want to slap her and hug her.  Likewise, Linden is not entirely dislikable, though he is sniveling and naïve. Gabriel is a victim of circumstance who is torn between a desire to protect Rhine and to see her happy.  Vaughn, on the other hand, is every bit the arch-villain—I hope very much that he will meet a painful demise in the series. Rowan, Rhine’s twin brother is hinted at in flashbacks and in the stories Rhine tells her sister wives, he is a character I look forward to learning more about as the story continues.  That’s another thing—this is the first installment of a series; however, it is also every bit its own story. 

I just can’t say enough how much I loved this book. What a phenomenal debut for Lauren DeStefano!

Click here to hear the author discussing her book.

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